Sunday, July 13, 2014

Sunday Reflection...

The domains of mathematics...

"And yet the history of mathematics is a history of aggressive territorial expansion, as mathematical techniques get broader and richer, and mathematicians find ways to address questions previously thought as outside their domain. 'A mathematical theory of probability' sounds unexceptional now, but once it would have seemed a massive overreach; math was about the certain and the true, not the random and the maybe-so! All that changed when Pascal, Bernoulli, and others found mathematical laws that governed the workings of chance. A mathematical theory of infinity? Before the work of Georg Cantor in the nineteenth century, the study of the infinite was as much theology as science; now, we understand Cantor's theory of multiple infinities, each one infinitely larger than the last, well enough to teach it to first-year math majors. (To be fair, it does kind of blow their minds.)….

"Will there be a mathematical theory of consciousness? Of society? Of aesthetics? People are trying, that's for sure, with only limited success so far. You should distrust all such claims on instinct. But you should also keep in mind that they might end up getting some important things right."

-- Jordan Ellenberg in "How Not To Be Wrong"

(My interview with Dr. Ellenberg is now up over at MathTango.)

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